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U.S.-Cuba Policy 'Caught Between Conflicting Impulses'

Interviewee: Daniel P. Erikson, Director of Caribbean programs, Inter-American Dialogue
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, News Editor, CFR.org
December 30, 2008

U.S. policy toward Cuba--an economic embargo and diplomatic isolation--has changed little under the past ten administrations. Some analysts see an opportunity for change once President-elect Barack Obama takes office. Daniel P. Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, author of The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution, says these expectations of change might be overly optimistic. "It's very difficult to see, at this point, the United States really undertaking dramatic changes to its U.S.-Cuba policies," he says, pointing out that though Obama promised sweeping changes during his campaign, his policy suggestions on Cuba are very small. Obama proposed:

  • an immediate end to travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans;
  • a dialogue with the Cuban government;
  • and a continuation of the U.S. economic embargo toward Cuba.

Erikson says an end to the economic embargo is unlikely, given that such a change would need congressional approval. He suggests, however, that allowing U.S. citizens to visit Cuba for cultural or academic exchange would be a small positive change in the relationship. Deepening dialogue with Cuba also could create an opening for future discussions on democracy and human rights. But "perhaps the most compelling reason for the Obama administration to move ahead on changes to Cuba policy has very little to do with Cuba and much more to do with Latin America," Erikson notes. In a time during which U.S. aid to Latin America might decrease, such changes would improve U.S. standing in the region significantly at very little financial cost.

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